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Nonprofit fights housing instability from COVID pandemic with rent relief

Crystal Perry believes bringing women together can be a bridge for success for the community. Amid COVID-19, she did her part to keep that community stayed afloat.

CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — Educate, uplift, and empower. That is the mission that drives Crystal Perry and her nonprofit Melanated Pearl, which aims to provide critical services contributing to the economic stability and mobility of women.

Perry was busy helping local entrepreneurs in Clayton County when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

"So our first order of business was checking in on those entrepreneurs," Perry said. "And I found a lot of people weren't able to keep food on the table."

Perry watched as desperation grew as restrictions and shutdowns disrupted lives across her community. 

"The airport closed. Service, which is a lot of our area in Clayton was completely, completely closed, and our Clayton Public School System went virtual," Perry said of the unfolding pandemic. 

"So all mothers in my community were directly affected with the loss of income," she added. "Their lives would change. Their children's lives would change, and so I wanted to be sure that if nothing else as this trauma was happening, people weren't being displaced."

To help bridge the gap, the nonprofit pivoted, launching an emergency housing assistance program. Perry, along with volunteers, worked with local partners to distribute COVID-related relief funds with the goal of keeping women and families facing eviction in their homes. 

In November 2020, the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, a joint effort from Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and United Way of Greater Atlanta, announced grants supporting education-focused interventions, food insecurity, housing and mental health services. 

According to Perry, Melanated Pearl received $25,000 for general operating support for homeless prevention services for families led by women of color in Clayton County. 

A year later, the nonprofit received three additional grants: $25,000 from the Cousins Family Foundation, $25,000 from the Sartain Lanier Family Foundation and $10,000 from the Tull Charitable Foundation.

As a result, the nonprofit was able to assist 36 families between 2020 and 2021. As of February 2022, the program has received 83 applications, representing $145,000 in need, Perry said.  The Mother of PEARL program has assisted 28 families, distributing over $38,000 in Clayton County in 2022.

While current funding has been exhausted, Perry said she is actively seeking more resources as the community need continues. 

"We are dealing with women who are elders who are on social security. I had one lady whose rent in December was $750. In January it went up to $999," she said.

The nonprofit works with landlords and apartment managers directly to get applicant's bills paid. 

"Help is out there," Perry said. "The worst thing you can do is completely abandon responsibility."

She added that it can be hard to have these conversations but recommends staying the course and doing what you can to show you're trying to make payments: 

- Any money you can save or put to the side, even a small money order, can help

- Make sure to communicate with your property manger or landlord

- Fill out paperwork within your county to make sure you're on housing assistance wait lists

"It's hard to be patient, but getting your names in those systems is key," she explained. "I think everyone agrees that secure and safe and affordable housing is key."

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